Recital in Ottawa

2005-09-21 / Ottawa Citizen / Richard Todd

Hewitt proves both subtle and rewarding

Angela Hewitt’s recital at Christ Church Cathedral last night was comprised of music by the composer with whom she established her reputation, Johann Sebastian Bach, and a selection of short pieces by Chopin, whom she added to her discography as recently as last year.

Given in benefit of Watercan and entitled Music for the Soul, Water for Life, it began with the first 12 preludes and fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. This music, and the opening prelude in particular, have been described as flowing from the wellspring of life.

Listeners fortunate enough to have heard Hewitt play the entire Well-Tempered Clavier at the National Arts Centre five years ago, and whose memories are good enough to make the comparison, certainly noticed a subtle deepening of understanding last night. The comparison with her recording, widely considered the finest ever made, is even more striking. She seems to be discovering subtle new layers of expression, and if these discoveries seem mildly tentative in two or three instances, the interpretations remain uniformly and supremely rewarding.

Some of the most striking insights occurred in the Prelude in C-sharp major, the mighty Fugue in C-sharp minor and especially in the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat minor. In addition to the serene inner logic of Bach’s music, Hewitt brought forth some of the most profound emotions of which music is capable.

The second half of the program consisted of various Chopin pieces beginning with the Three Mazurkas, op. 50 followed by three waltzes and finally the Scherzo in B-flat minor, op. 33.

It might seem strange that Hewitt succeeds with this repertoire, in part at least, by bringing the virtues of her Bach playing to it, but clarity and intelligence count for a great deal in almost any music. Last night there was none of the dreamy, elevator-music quality that some pianists produce and the music was much the better for it.